A thought experiment

Is liberalism an ideology that comes into power and remains in power because people believe in it (as I always say)? Or is liberalism merely a product, a symptom, even an epiphenomenon, of modernity? I grant that liberalism is the ideology of modernity. But is liberalism nothing but the ideology of modernity?

Here is a thought experiment to address the question. Let us say we had an America in which everyone was a conservative. There are no liberals, just conservatives—people who oppose most of the things that the rule of liberalism has done to America. And to make the experiment “pure,” let’s say that all these conservatives are not your average neocons, libertarians, RINOS, Republican Establishmentarians, soccer moms, Fox News babes, Bush worshippers, democracy spreaders, or mainstream conservatives, but traditionalist conservatives.

Also, to reduce the number of variables and keep the experiment focused on the main issue, let us say that there are no nonwhites around. To keep the experiment even simpler, let us say that there are no Jews. The whole population of this hypothetical America consists of white Christian traditionalist conservatives.

Would such an America, populated solely by white Christian traditionalist conservatives, actually get rid of liberal rule, and replace it by a traditionalist society? Or, would the very fact and force of modernity—widespread abundance, technology providing every need, easy availability of every kind of consumer good (including of course The Pill), a mass electronic culture, mass advertising, a global economy—insensibly push such a society right back into the liberalism that its citizens consciously opposed and were trying to replace?

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Kilroy M. writes:

It all depends on how this hypothetical community plans to deal with what Christianity refers to as original sin, or what could be described also as man’s inherent vices. It has long been my belief that liberalism is just the ideology that accommodates man’s worst nature. Hence, however the community of conservatives deals with these defects of human nature will determine whether that society degenerates in the same way ours has, or not. The pessimist in me would say that it would degenerate. After all, all civilisations have rotted from within, as ours has done. And so too would your hypothetical conservative society.

Bob A. writes:

As long as you have universal suffrage, even this idyllic population will be enslaved by man’s passions and desires and will eventually devolve into liberalism as we know it. As soon as you invest sovereignty in an abstraction called the “people,” the die is cast. Now, in the population you described, the process would be protracted, taking perhaps centuries, but the dissolution would inevitably come for “reason works as an eloquent prostitute for passions that would enslave us all.”

Dostoevsky taught that we could either have Christ or the Abyss. We have chosen the Abyss and its name is democracy.

LA replies:

But “centuries” is a long time. You seem to be saying that such a population would indeed get rid of liberal rule and restore a traditionalist society, and that after such traditionalist society had been restored, over time it would deteriorate once again.

David P. writes:

What a nice thought experiment.

But why bother with a thought experiment, when, for all practical purposes, we have recourse to a real one. America was predominantly WASP and traditional, and the result of this real experiment is what we have now. Non-WASP immigration was not the cause of the decay to liberalism, but simply a by-product of the natural decay of any well defined system. All systems, either physical or man-made and social (whether traditional, Marxist, or totalitarian), decay towards chaos.

Is that the end? No, we have hope, and that is justified, as men can break the rules; so we yet revert to a more defined system, though not necessarily a traditional one you may like.

Thank you once again for a thought provoking site.

Gintas writes:

We think liberalism doesn’t include the science and technology of modernity, we think science and technology are essentially morally neutral but have simply been hijacked by liberalism. But the heart of science and technology IS the heart of liberalism. It’s a Promethean project to do because we can. We deconstruct and demystify and master Nature to the uttermost, and that includes human nature. Now, technology enables us to be gods deciding even one’s own sex, who lives and who dies, how one dies, and how one’s life is ordered. Were not those things once the province of God? Progressives have always conflated scientific and technological progress with human progress, and it’s because they are the same thing in the modern project. For liberals any problem can and will be solved—that is the mind of science and technology—and all the solutions are devised by science. The religious moralists—those dinosaurs—have nothing to tell us, no amount of obvious moral degeneracy counts as evidence of regress. Rather, it’s all somehow evidence of progress, because it’s uplift out of the Dark Age of religious suppression of sexual license, of hierarchy, of sex roles, of constraints and limits.

Conversely, who are the most traditional people I can think of? The Amish, and it’s no accident they are also the most anti-modern and anti-technological people I can think of. In general as you go further away from cities, into agricultural areas, life is much more conservative.

Alissa writes:

I’ve observed a few liberal distopian novels that combined orthodox conservatism with high technological levels. From the liberal point of view, it seems that it is possible since they view technology as a tool and not necessarily a cause.

Dave T. writes:

I would argue that liberalism is not so much the natural product of the socioeconomic structures that make up the modern world, as it is the natural product of the modern world’s commitment to the Enlightenment narrative of progress and the metaphysics of materialism. In particular, the metaphysical commitment to materialism allows moderns simultaneously to reject the philosophical basis for much of the wisdom that comes to us from antiquity, which is almost invariably rooted in the metaphysics of a divinely ordained ethical economy, while at the same time dismissing the pre-modern period as being hopelessly clouded by so much superstitious nonsense. Given the wholesale rejection of the (non-material) transcendent, and along with it any notion of a divinely ordained ethical economy, moderns re-imagined the purpose of life in terms of maximizing physical pleasure and blamed mankind’s previous inability to solve the so-called “problem of evil” (now implicitly redefined as the persistent creaturely perception of injustices) on the residual influence of pre-modern non-materialistic thinking on society. Moreover, it is at this stage in the analysis that the Enlightenment narrative of progress tells a story in which humanity moves forward by exchanging the false non-materialistic thinking of the past for an empiricist epistemology rooted in the scientific method that will enable humanity to develop new technologies capable of meeting the challenges of the present and the future.

Bob A. replies to LA:

You wrote:

But “centuries” is a long time. You seem to be saying that such a population would indeed get rid of liberal rule and restore a traditionalist society, and that after such traditionalist society had been restored, over time it would deteriorate once again.

I’m saying that the fly in the ointment is universal suffrage. Accepting your premise, which obviously could never exist, even that population of committed traditionalists would be ensnared by their own appetites and desires IF they adopted democracy as their political model. Now, if they rejected “democracy” and adopted instead a constitutional republic in which the franchise was severely limited, the “process” would take longer but be inevitable nonetheless—witness the USA.

The only way in which the interests of a people can be protected is by theonomically integrating Christian values into the government. [LA adds: From Wikipedia: “Theonomy is a theory in Christian theology that God is the sole source of human ethics.”] The most radical idea of our founders was separation of church and state. Only a committed religious people can withstand the torrential sundering of modernity. And please notice I said “people” meaning racially, ethnically and religiously homogeneous with shared history and language.

That these observations are a difficult pill to swallow these days does not make them any the less true. I realize none of this shall come to pass. However, when we begin picking up the pieces it will serve us well that some small remnant understand the organic structuring of a successful people. The nihilists and utopians have been cut adrift from the wellspring of their humanity.

Again, Dostoevsky:

The people is the body of God. Every people is only a people so long as it has its own god and excludes all other gods on earth irreconcilably; so long as it believes that by its god it will conquer and drive out of the world all other gods. Such, from the beginning of time, has been the belief of all great nations, all, anyway, who have been specially remarkable, all who have been leaders of humanity. There is no going against facts.

If a great people does not believe that the truth is only to be found in itself alone (in itself alone and in it exclusively); if it does not believe that it alone is fit and destined to raise up and save all the rest by its truth. A nation which loses this belief ceases to be a nation. But there is only one truth, and therefore only a single one out of the nations can have the true God, even though other nations may have great gods of their own.”

That being said, all is not lost, there is a tiny, and I mean tiny, remnant of antique Christians whose numbers, while insignificant, do not matter. Ultimately, all things are possible in Christ. Remember, Europe has not been fully and authentically “Christian” since the 1790s. Taking back the European homeland, if Europeans are to survive, will be a nasty, brutish affair. And, we’ve a way to go before we hit bottom.

I do believe that the remnant is growing. But the radicalizing influence of the Enlightenment thinkers is in the air we breathe. Even “conservatives” have been co-opted by radicalized thinking. The vast majority of Americans would not even recognize high octane, pedal to the metal conservative (reactionary counter-revolutionary) thought. Our politics and thinking have been shifting left for over 200 years, arguably since the Reformation.

Were Christians wrong about nearly everything for 1800 years?! Was it just the current crop of Christians who finally got it right? Was Christian European civilization built upon lies that have just now been righted? Was the Europe that produced Handel’s Messiah, Walter Scott, Dickens, and Dostoevsky inauthentically Christian? Were they all racists, xenophobes, and bigots? I don’t think so. Those Christian men and women built a civilization that will forever stand as a testimony to Christ.

One more reminder from Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov:

Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty heart and mind begins with the ideal of Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom … Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind, beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? What’s awful is that beauty is a thing mysterious and terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.

The truly good, lovely, beautiful and true can only be preserved through a muscular masculine belief in Christ.

TKV writes:

OK, so what we have is a pure Christian society—Southern Baptist let’s say. Everything is perfect, until …

Mama decides that she will hold back a few dollars from the offering plate on Sunday. After all, she had given many hours of her time this past week looking after this and that, all of which was bonafide Christian charity and, besides, the grocery account was a bit short for next week. And it was about time for somebody else to pick up the slack.

My brother skipped church because he successfully convinced Mama that he had a stomach virus. After all, he had attended every single revival meeting this past week. He deserved some time off and hardly nobody else would notice.

Daddy, who had attended each revival night last week, slept through the sermon, except when he was noticing that sweet young thing sitting on the next pew.

I noticed Daddy noticing the pretty young thing in front of us, and I was kind of undressing her right there in church—much more undressing than I had accomplished yesterday at the picnic.

My sister was yapping in the back of the church and I know she was bearing down on that pretty young thing that I was sort of undressing. Nobody should look that good my sister was surely thinking.

Abject failures, we conservative Southern Baptists. We just cannot live up to our professed standards. But what else does God expect? Mama is just looking out for the rest of us. Daddy is tired and should be cut a little slack—after all, Mama don’t look so good lately. My brother needed the sleep. Sister needed some relief from her inadequacies, and I certainly need some relief. A little license would help here dear God, if you are listening.

Well, there it is. We are all seeking some measure of license for our transgressions, our shortcomings. The difference between liberals and conservatives is that a conservative (a true Christian conservative) is not really seeking license. He is seeking strength to overcome weakness and forgiveness when failing to do so. The liberal is only seeking license.

And liberal license seeking is the genesis of every “ism” that we have today.

LA replies:

I don’t know. It seems an awfully big leap from the human scenario you are describing to the full blown rule of liberalism, but maybe you’re onto something.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 19, 2012 11:01 AM | Send

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